ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sherlock Holmes has been a favorite of mystery lovers since Arthur Conan Doyle invented him in 1887. However, it was the stage actor and playwright, William Gillette, who created much that is most memorable about the character, including his signature line, “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”
Gillette revised Doyle’s own unsuccessful stage rendition in the 1890s, and it was such a success that he ended up performing the titular character on stage for the next 33 years — even starring in a silent film version of the play in 1916.
Ken Ludwig, the comic playwright who gave us “Lend Me a Tenor,” has crafted a mildly amusing whodunit around Gillette and his Sherlock Holmes character that is currently being produced by Adobe Theater. I suppose the subtitle — “Holmes for the Holidays” — suggests the show is a holiday entertainment, but besides the fact that the murder takes place at Gillette’s mansion on Christmas Eve, there is nothing about the show that would qualify it as a Christmas season show. That might be a point in its favor if you are looking to eschew the many holiday offerings this time of year, but unfortunately the show does not succeed either as comedy or as an engrossing murder-mystery.
First of all, Ludwig has not written a particularly compelling mystery or laugh-out-loud comedy. But to make matters worse, the actors, as if to compensate for the play’s deficiencies, overact from beginning to end.
Expert comic timing, nuance, understatement, and the right gesture at the right time — in other words, skillful comic acting — can certainly make a mediocre comedy funny.